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Archive for Monday, January 1, 2007

Commentary: Here’s hoping steroid story isn’t dead

Circuit court’s ruling may pave way for major leaguers to be named as abusers

January 1, 2007

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It should have been the biggest story of the young century.

The massive abuse of performance-enhancing, illegal, anabolic steroids and human growth hormones should have dwarfed the 1919 Black Sox Scandal both in scope and impact.

The Eight Men Out who dumped a World Series shamed themselves and cast suspicion on whether the national pastime was manipulated by mobsters. But no records of the day were compromised. And records are the hard coin of major league baseball's realm.

Scared honest by their brush with a crisis of confidence that could have sundered professional baseball, the 16 owners swiftly did what they should have done when the American League was admitted to major league status in 1903: They hired a commissioner to keep them in line and vested him with extraordinary power.

Baseball's Great Steroid Scandal has been greeted with yawns and a chorus of, "Name names or shut up."

It took decades for Roger Maris and Henry Aaron to break the home-run records of Babe Ruth, a much larger man than either. But three sluggers with inflated biceps, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, turned the 61 hit by Maris into so much kindling. McGwire topped Maris by nine with 70. Then Bonds, at 37, hit 73 in 2001, playing in the toughest home-run park in the majors.

Barring a serious injury or a prison term - the former is far more likely than the latter - Bonds will shatter Aaron's revered career home-run mark of 755 by midseason. He needs just 22. He'll clearly cream that record.

So why did this big, big story become a dull, dull story?

Why are the guys in by far the most serious Great Steroid Scandal trouble the truth-seekers and not the truth-concealers? Why are San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams facing jail time for refusing to name the sources who leaked grand jury testimony that blew the lid off BALCO and exposed a jock elite Steroid Nation that allegedly includes Bonds and a presumed number of high profile players?

Easy answer for anybody who watches "Entertainment Tonight," everybody who revels in the trailer-park trash rolled on and off Jerry Springer's daytime stage. Easy answer if you are addicted to "Cops," and even easier if you followed Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic misspeaks or tallied the N-words dropped by the late Cosmo Kramer in his real-life role as Michael Richards - unfunny racist stand-up comic. Honk if you downloaded the clip on "YouTube."

To get lathered into a state of either titillation or high dudgeon we need names. We need pictures attached to the names and the bigger the names, the better.

Innuendo just doesn't hack it anymore in the Voyeur Century.

There are signs, however, that this could finally achieve the big, water-cooler conversation, e-mail blizzard, forum-topic status that has eluded it so far.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Wednesday that federal investigators probing Bonds and others with alleged connections to BALCO can use the names of more than 100 major league players who failed MLB drug testing in 2003. Under an agreement with the Major League Players Association, MLB agreed to confidentiality. No names from those failed tests have ever been made public. And since the tests were conducted before the new, tougher penalties for failing random tests were put into place, they are not liable for punishment. They are liable for outing by the feds, however. They are liable for subpoenas and cross examination in the ongoing attempt to expand the role BALCO has played in the distribution of substances banned by federal laws.

Bonds haters may yet get that Big Story on "Action News" featuring the slugger being marched into a bail hearing. Meanwhile, Michael Rains, Barry's lead lawyer, is here to tell us his client is not one of the 100 players who tested positive in 2003.

It would have been a nice touch if Rains had said, "Barry is completely in the CLEAR," which is one of the magic masking agents the BALCO chemists concocted to make the presence of HGH and other compounds literally invented on the fly as undetectable as fly specks in black pepper.

So maybe we will have a juicy steroid scandal. And if somebody can send me evidence that would prove conclusively that Mark McGwire used magic muscle-up, I'll demand to have my Hall of Fame vote for him retracted.

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